Earlier this week I was privileged to sit with members of my community at the annual banquet for ETTA the Beverly Hilton.
ETTA houses and cares for members of the Jewish community who have special needs, but who wish to feel the dignity of independence. The heartwarming nature of this work left a deep impression on me, and on everyone who attended the dinner.
The honoree was an autistic young adult, Moshe Bienenfeld, who spoke movingly about his life, and how ETTA had helped him break out of the prison of his condition.
This banquet was one of several that many of us have attended over these past few weeks. What I find remarkable is the wide range of worthy causes that the Jewish community is involved in. Social causes. Political causes. We are at the forefront of creating a better and more caring society, fighting for justice, ensuring that no individual within our community, and well beyond our own community, will fall through the cracks that are the natural byproduct of a complex world.
And it seems that this trait is in our genetic code.
As far back as three and a half thousand years ago, it was this characteristic of the Jews that prompted Pharaoh to initiate his ill-fated campaign to enslave the nascent Jewish nation. As he explained to his advisors (Ex. 1:10):
כִי תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַם הוּא עַל שׂנְאֵינוּ וְנִלְחַם בָנוּ וְעָלָה מִן הָאָרֶץ “when a war will occur, they will join our enemies and fight against us, and get out of the land.”
Evidently, Pharaoh was not afraid of the Jews as a military force. What he was concerned about was that he might lose them to his enemies!
Pharaoh realized that any enemy who harnessed the talent and energy of the Jewish people would have an instant, and potentially fatal advantage over Egypt. That, Pharaoh declared, was never going to happen on his watch.
His plans, as we all know, were foiled, as have the plans of all the many others who have attempted throughout our history to shut us down or snuff us out.
And the fascinating fact is this — every society to which the Jews have contributed their intellectual strength, entrepreneurial initiative and humane sensitivities, has succeeded and thrived, while those that have shunned us have deteriorated and crumbled.
Charities such as ETTA, AIPAC, Stand With Us, JNF, along with Jewish educational institutions and Jewish welfare organizations – all of these are the storefront of the lifeblood of humanity, and of civilization.
The Jewish people have every right to be proud of our 3,500-year-old legacy, and of our continued commitment to it.